WARNING: This story is a little more serious than standard
TTR:TDF fare, although there is some of the usual humor. The
idea for it struck me as I was finishing up "Access Limited", and
proved too irresistible to pass up.
This story takes place directly after "Friendly Fire" and "Access
Limited". Reading these stories beforehand is recommended.
As always, comments, criticisms, and deconstructionist
dissertations may be sent to DeTroyes@EnterAct.Com; flamers will
be tied into a chair and forced to watch "Dimensions in Time" in
a continual loop.
Copyright notice at end.
A This Time Round: To Die For fiction.
It was 2:00 am when Adric finally left the 'Round.
His friends had decided to call it a night soon after he went
off-shift, but he'd decided to stick around for just a little
longer to do some miscellaneous tasks that still needed
attention. Like shoring up the ceiling and sweeping up that last
pile of shattered glass. The minor detail that somewhere out
there was a psychotic, frustrated, almost certainly enraged
Trakenite, also probably had something to do with it. Not that
the 'Round was any safer than anyplace else, mind you, but at
least the light and activity made it seem safer.
It had really been one of those days, and he was now just as
ready to see it over with as any of the others.
He peered cautiously into the darkness, just in case she was
lurking, waiting for another chance at ambush. But there was
nothing out there that he could see; no odd movements, no funny
shadows, no out-of-place shapes in the darkness. Of course, that
didn't mean anything.
He took a few hesitant steps, then decided it just wasn't worth
the effort to be so paranoid this late at night. Quite simply,
after everything that had happened the previous day he was just
dead tired, and whether or not his sleep was of the natural or
the eternal variety didn't much matter to him at that point. All
he wanted was to reach his bed and collapse; worrying about what
next the psycho had in mind could wait until tomorrow, along with
that... other... problem he had been handed in regards to her.
His path took him near the edge of the crater in the parking lot,
which had been created courtesy of the energy weapons aboard Ryo-
ohki in ship form. Adric had to admit, it was actually a rather
impressive piece of property damage; the asphalt had been
completely vaporized, the ground underneath disintegrated to the
tune of around ten meters in depth, and the remainder turned into
so much rocky gravel. An acrid burnt tinge still hung in the air
What to do with it had been the major topic of conversation for
the evening. Both Ace and Zoe had suggested a swimming pool, but
the Doctors were adamantly against the prospect of losing still
more TARDIS parking space; not one but five new incarnations had
been added by "Curse of the Fatal Death", after all, and the
fight for the available slots was beginning to get out of hand.
Nabiki, at least, had been able to provide them with the name of
a quick and reliable contractor.
He wandered to the lip of the crater and peered inside. There
were few lights in the area and it was an otherwise moonless
night, so for the most part the crater just took on different
shades of darkness. A mist rose from the moist, newly exposed
ground, creating ghostly images that hung along the curved
slopes. Other than that, the crater looked empty, a dark void in
the middle of an ill-lit paved area.
A gentle, sweet-smelling spring breeze blew past, and Adric stood
there for a moment to take it in, drawing just a little more
strength from it.
Perhaps it was because his eyes had become adjusted to the
darkness, or perhaps it was because the breeze had managed to
part enough of the mist, or perhaps it was just because such
things only happened when unforeseen forces decreed they should.
It doesn't matter, really; what did matter was that, at that
exact moment, his eyes caught on something in the darkness below.
A faint something, grayish in the darkness, but something solid
A suspicion came to mind, and he slowly walked along the
periphery to gain a better view. It took no more than a few
steps to confirm his first impression: a mechanical-looking
humanoid form, on its side, with two arms extended in an almost
"The hardsuit." he said to himself, quietly. The rent-a-bouncers
had said they'd thrown it into "the pit in the parking lot",
which means she'd have tumbled all the way down and would have
then had to climb out as soon as she'd freed herself. An
indignant end, he thought, to what must have been a disaster of a
day for her.
He snorted. "Serves her right." he muttered to himself, without
He shook his head and was about to turn away when something came
to mind. Squinting, he leaned forward to get a more careful view
of the hardsuit below.
That's funny, he thought. It still looked fairly intact.
Adric tried to dredge up what he know about hardsuits, which
unfortunately was not much. From conversations with some of the
gang at Ucchan's, mostly. Still, he did remember the oft-told
joke about them, that the reason they were called hardsuits was
because they were hard to get in and out of. They were not
something as easy to climb into as, say, a Gundam or a Scope-Dog.
Those mechs were basically piloted vehicles; hardsuits were
The hardsuit below looked as if its seals had not been cracked,
as if it hadn't been unassembled since it was last used.
A slight uneasy feeling rumbled in his stomach. Everyone had
assumed she'd just climb out of the suit, and that would be that.
After all, she'd gotten into it. But no one had seen or heard
from her since Polly had been tricked into ejecting "Priss" from
the Pub; how did they know for certain that that had been the
case? Did anyone bother to go out and check?
He took a careful step over the lip of the crater and slid down
just enough to get a better view.
Either she's even more of an obsessive neatness freak than I
thought, Adric continued in his mind, or she's still...
"Is someone there?" came a weak, familiar voice. To his ears, it
suddenly seemed as loud as thunder.
Adric stopped, hesitated, and found himself backing up toward the
"Um, can you help me, please? I seem to be having some
The voice was most definitely hers, and clearly coming from the
hardsuit. It was low and barely audible. Shuddering, he backed
himself over the lip and pushed himself out, one foot dislodging
a loose rock, which tumbled down the side of the crater and
crashed against the mechanical figure.
"Please... I... I can't seem to get out of this. Something is
stuck..." Despite the tone, there seemed more than just a slight
tinge of desperation in her voice. Desperation and fatigue, as
if she'd been struggling for hours.
He stared at the mech figure, not certain what to do, his mind a
jumble of thoughts and conflicting suggestions. Walk away, the
vindictive side of him kept thinking. Just walk away. Remember,
that's what she'd do. Heck, that's what she's _done_. Just
walked away and made jokes about it afterwards.
"Is there someone there?" came the weak voice. "Please, um, I
really could use some help down here."
Walk away. Just walk away. Let her see what its like to be on
the receiving end for a change.
"Um.... hello? Is someone there?"
Somehow, the voice didn't seem all that menacing and threatening
anymore. Or all that angry. Just... scared. Weary and scared,
just like he was most of the time.
"Look... it isn't difficult, it's just.... I can't reach the
release. It shouldn't take you more than a minute...."
Just walk away. Let someone else find her. Tomorrow morning,
"Can you please help me?" The desperation was even more apparent
Just walk away. Just...
Chang Lee was surprised to find Adric rummaging through the
drawers in the back of the bar, evidently looking for something.
"Hey, I thought you'd left..."
Adric patted his chest pocket, which was uncharacteristically
vacant. "The star. Fell off somewhere out there. Need to find
"Oh, ok. Try the next drawer over."
The Alzarian opened the indicated drawer and fished out a
flashlight made of heavy duty yellow plastic. He turned it on to
test. "There, that should do." he pronounced, "Thanks."
Chang watched the young man leave, and frowned. He wasn't
certain, but he was almost sure he could see the outline of a
five-pointed star in the Alzarian's back pocket.
This is stupid, he thought. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
She won't appreciate the gesture, she'll blame him for the whole
fiasco, and she'll probably repay him by pulling a gun or
something out of a concealed compartment and finish the job she'd
been unable to do all day. All the previous day. Whatever.
He sighed, gripped the tools he'd appropriated from one of the
tool boxes lying about, and carefully stepped over the crater
lip. He slid down a few feet in her general direction. A small
avalanche of loose dirt and rock cascaded below his feet.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. He had no idea why he was doing this,
why he should be down here at this time of the night, nor why it
was even reasonable that he should be doing so. He could be
asleep in his bed by now, having a much-needed but all-too-brief
respite from all the usual crap goings on. But instead, here he
was trying to play emergency mech mechanic to the one person in
all the universe who'd least acknowledge it as a favor, and for
the life of him he couldn't figure out an answer why.
No wonder they all thought he was a fool.
He approached her from the back to stay out of view of her visor,
carefully watching his footing as he did so. For the time being,
he decided, best not to let her know he was the one coming down.
It would save him some of the inevitable aggravation.
His foot slipped, and he caught himself from sliding. The last
thing he wanted was to be injured himself down there, he
realized; he'd have to wait until either his quick-healing
abilities kicked in or they were both found by someone else, and
with his luck it would probably be the latter. Try explaining
that one away to Wes and Ryoko.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
In a vague way, he wondered what her reaction would be when she
found out who her rescuer was. If she found out. She'd probably
just give him The Look, and add it to whatever list of grievances
it was she carried.
It took her a few moments to realize that someone was coming; he
was only a few steps away when the helmet lifted slightly.
Perhaps, he reasoned, she had passed out, a thought which oddly
made him feel a little less uneasy. Still, he decided to remain
wary of her.
"Is... is someone there?" she asked, her voice hoarse and
He fought the momentary urge to respond; he wasn't any good at
hiding his voice, after all, and its timbre was far too
distinctive. If she knew it was him, she'd just complain and be
very cross while he tried to work. Everything considered, he'd
just as soon not have to deal with that as well.
"Who is it? Is that you, Doctor?"
He dropped his tools to the ground, which impacted with a clang
and a thud louder than he would have liked.
"Um, hello?" she asked.
He picked up one of the tools, an ordinary steel hammer, and
gently tapped three times on her helmet to let her know someone
was indeed there. Then he went to his knees, picked up the
flashlight, and began to carefully examine the backside for any
latches or releases.
"Uh, thank you, whoever you are." she said. "This is a little
embarrassing, you see. I didn't expect this thing to be so
difficult." He could feel her trying to wiggle inside. "I tried
the emergency release, but it seems to be stuck on something at
the shoulder. Can you try looking there?"
Adric aimed the flashlight at the area. After a quick scan, he
found the latch in question and silently bent to examine it.
Sure enough, he found that it looked to be unusually twisted,
with one part of the metallic hook partially warped and other
pieces of the assembly contorted to shapes not usually associated
with quality engineering. Also, the polymer casing around it
seemed to have partially melted. Since the latch was barely a
hand's breadth away from the spot Ryoko had zapped, he decided
that was probably a good bet as to the cause of the problem. He
made a mental note to ask Ryoko sometime if that had been
"Do you see it?" she asked. "Can you get it undone?"
He caught himself as he opened his mouth, but managed to say
nothing. Instead, he gave the helmet two more gentle raps in
acknowledgment. Then, he dangled a hammer in front of her visor,
so she could see it and know what he was planning.
"Ok," she said resolutely, "I'm ready."
He put the pick-side of the hammer into a notch in the armor next
to the latch and tried to pry. No luck. He tried another spot,
but still no luck. He changed positions to try to get better
leverage; here at least he was able to jostle it a little loose,
but not enough to make a difference. After a few minutes he
stopped; the effort was taking up quite a lot of his remaining
He bent down again to examine the latch and the seals around it.
The hardsuit was designed to fight boomers and other mechs, but
most especially to protect its operator. They weren't designed
to be gotten into easily, although this one had seen quite a lot
of battle damage in the previous few hours (Ryoko, though, had
confided to him earlier that she hadn't opened fire with anything
approaching a full charge, just enough to "make a point"). Now
the very same safeguards that were meant to keep her alive were
also keeping her trapped inside.
He wondered what time it was over in MegaTokyo; the only way to
get her out might be to call up the real Priss and get them out
here, maybe even that whole damn rig of theirs. That would go
over real well with her; he could just imagine how angry she'd be
at the embarrassment of it all.
"Excuse me," she asked, "but have you found anything?"
He sighed, gave the helmet another gentle tap, and picked up a
sonic screwdriver from the pile of tools on the ground. It was
one of those crappy Black & Decker models that someone had picked
up in a hardware store on Rigel IV (the Doctor hadn't been very
pleased when he first saw them, and had spent a considerable
amount of time in consultation with a patent attorney as a
result). He checked the power level, and cursed himself for not
thinking to take an extra powercell from the workbench recharger.
Only a half-charge. Well, it would have to do. Distantly, he
wondered what the Doctor's screwdriver used as a power source;
He bent back over to look at the latch.
"You know, I really do appreciate this." he heard her say.
Despite himself, he felt a grin form on his face. "I'd just
about given up hope anyone would find me before sunrise."
Hmmm, he thought. The polymer had melted under Ryoko's
concentrated charge of energy. The metal holding the latch was
bolted into the same polymer. Perhaps...
He began to adjust the sonic screwdriver, concentrating its
spread to as fine a point as it would allow.
"Um, I don't mean to sound ungrateful or anything, but... I
wouldn't mind knowing who my rescuer was."
For a split second he considered telling her, just to hear what
her reaction would be. Just one quick name, just a few quick
words, and she'd know.
But for what purpose? So he could be ridiculed by her? Did he
really expect there to be any kind words for him once she found
out? She was certainly capable of it to anyone else, but to
_him_? Hadn't she already shown what she _really_ thought, time
and time again?
One part of him asked: But what about when you came back, after
your troubles with the netherworld bureaucracy? Was that an
What about Christmas? the other part retorted. That could not
All of this happened in a moments thought. His mouth opened, but
nothing came. Instead, he aimed the sonic screwdriver at the
latch, and pulled the ring down.
Undoubtably, she recognized the humming sound the screwdriver
made, so perhaps she just assumed he was one of the Doctors
after all. In any case, she didn't seem to want to press her
line of questioning. She was getting out, and that was what
He worked on in silence.
The sonic screwdriver vibrated the air around it into a tight
beam, which was now being concentrated upon the plastic.
Bouncing atoms were kinetic, and kinetic activity caused heat.
Heat was energy, and concentrated tightly enough energy will cut
through anything. Using a sonic screwdriver in this way wasn't
as effective a cutting tool as, say, a lightsaber or a plasma
torch, but it got the job done. Slowly, and probably with a
degree of discomfort inside, he began to melt the areas around
the latch's anchoring areas.
The screwdriver's charge soon ran out, but by that time he had
managed to cut away the anchors to the lower part of the latch.
Enough to insert the prying-end of the hammer. He gave her
another tap to let her know he was still there, then propped the
flashlight against some rocks to allow him to use both hands.
He put one hand on the latch to guide the hammer into the hole,
and immediately regretted it.
The word came out before he could stop it. He bit down furiously
to stifle any more while he waved his hand furiously; he had
completely forgotten how good of a heat conductor the hardsuit
"Are you alright?" the voice from the helmet asked, with genuine
He almost answered, but once more kept his mouth shut, in the
vague hope that the one word was not enough to identify him.
Instead, he waited a moment until his hand felt better and the
dull regenerative tingling set in, then gave her another tap to
He set the hammer pick-end into the hole, stood, gripped the
hammer with both hands, and started to pry the latch off.
It started to give. He rocked the hammer some more, and felt the
latch start to bend. Finally, he stopped, took a deep breath,
then with all of his remaining strength yanked back.
With a crunch it gave, and Adric went falling back to the ground
There was a "pop" as a seal broke, and in the darkness Adric
watched as the back section of the hardsuit started to separate
from the rest of the unit...
The cool, spring air was the first indication she had that the
backside section had finally separated. After hours of lying on
her side and uselessly struggling against this mechanical coffin,
to smell something other than warm, musty air was almost as much
a relief as the prospect of getting out was.
With the backside separated, she finally had the room she needed
to wiggle out. The first thing she did was free her arms. She
had to bend backwards slightly to do it, but after a minute they
were free. Once that was done, it was a simple matter to reach
underneath and disconnect the helmet. Finally, she started to
pull her legs out, and carefully climbed out of the useless husk
of cybernetic equipment.
She stood unsteadily on her feet, one hand using the hardsuit for
support. She had been in that stupid thing for hours, and all
her muscles ached as a result.
"Thank you." she said finally, as she leaned forward and took off
her helmet. Ah! Fresh air at last! "I was beginning to think
She stopped, and turned around, confused.
No one was there.
There were a number of tools lying on the ground, and a lit
flashlight that shined on numerous footprints. But no one else
was around, no person, no rescuer for her to thank. She was
She heard a scuffing sound above, and looked up just in time to
see a dark figure duck over the lip of the crater, followed by
the sound of running footsteps off into the distance.
She stared in that direction for several moments.
"How odd." she said to herself, then tore away, still trying to
make sense of it all. The one time the person had spoken they'd
certainly sounded familiar, but for the life of her she couldn't
place the voice.
She shook her head, then looked down at herself. She was in one
of those body suits that were supposedly more comfortable to wear
when operating this kind of mech, but at the moment she felt a
distinct need to get out of it as soon as possible; this was one
dispatching method she doubted she'd ever try again.
She picked up the flashlight, and began to climb out of the
At the top she paused and looked around, as if hoping that
whoever her knight had been they'd be waiting for her at the top.
But there was no one she could see, just darkness and the
occasional bad lighting. It was late, too late for most anyone
to be out. The only source of activity she could see was in the
'Round, and that was marginal at best.
She considered just going to her room and going to bed; Keeper-
knows, she needed it. Certainly she needed to change, and more
than just a twinge of modesty was telling her that her current
attire was probably just a little too tight for general company.
But yet... she also desperately wanted something warm to drink.
It was late. The 'Round was probably mostly empty. She could
doubtless survive a little embarrassment. Wordlessly, she made
her way to the pub's entrance.
There were only two others apparent when she entered. One was
the Sixth Doctor, who was loudly snoring on one of the benches;
the other was Chang Lee, who always seemed to genuinely enjoy the
graveyard shift and was currently leaning against the bar and in
front of the TV, holding some kind of hand-held control. On the
TV screen a computer generated, busty, and barely-clad woman was
running through what looked like a tomb, her machine guns blazing
Chang turned toward the door when she entered, then paused the
game. "Oh, hello." he said, cheerfully. "We were wondering
what, umm, happened to you."
She tried to give him The Look, but failed. She was much too
tired. Instead, she took a stool at the bar.
"One Demise?" Chang asked, helpfully. He was trying and failing
to not notice the rest of the Trakenite's outfit.
She shook her head. "No, not tonight. Tea will do just fine."
After a few moments, Chang came back with a cup of hot water, a
tea bag, and a small tray of cream and sugar. He placed the
order in front of her, then out of courtesy looked away. His
attention fell on something she had placed on the counter when
she had taken her seat.
"So, I see you got Adric again." Chang observed,
She glanced up from her tea and gave him a confused look. "What
made you think...?"
"The flashlight." Chang pointed to the object on the counter.
"He said he dropped his star outside somewhere and borrowed that
to look for it."
Her eyes went down to the flashlight, and her eyebrows furrowed
in understanding. A quiet "Oh..." was all she could manage.
She paused at the heavy-duty yellow plastic thing, and seemed to
"Uh, no," she continued, finally, "I, umm, found it outside on
the ground. He must have dropped it...." She took a sip of her
tea, then added "...the weasel." for good measure.
Chang nodded. "Oh, ok. That makes sense." He picked up the
flashlight, and opened the drawer from whence it came. "He
probably saw you and just got scared."
She tried and failed to give him an evil grin, it still requiring
more energy than she currently had available. Instead, it came
out as a lopsided half-smile that appeared entirely superficial.
"Yeah," she concluded, "that must have been it. I scared him
She dropped a lump of sugar into her tea, and watched it
dissolve. She stared as it did so, observing with detachment as
the contents swirled slowly, lost in thought.
"Yeah," she repeated quietly to herself, as Chang stepped away to
continue his game. "That's it. I must have done it." She took
a slow sip.
"I must have scared him off."
18 April 1999
1) Diane: Does this count as a story without any significant
2) This story is a departure from my usual TTR work; I would
genuinely like to know what you think of it. Please send
commentary, as I don't know what I am doing right or wrong
unless people comment. Thanks! Email: DeTroyes@EnterAct.Com
_Doctor Who_ characters and concepts copyright British
Broadcasting Corporation and original creators; _This Time Round_
created by Tyler Dion; _Bubblegum Crises_ copyright that company
in Japan I don't know the name of, but I just remembered that the
subtitled videos are copyright AnimeEigo. All above used without
Original story copyright 1999, Douglas B. Killings. All rights